Boris Johnson is set to issue his decision on Thomas Heatherwick’s controversial Garden Bridge later this week, but not before he is grilled on the project by London Assembly members
The London mayor’s verdict on the £175million structure – which already has the approval of both Westminster and Lambeth councils - will be issued on Friday (19 December) after a closed-to-the public session at City Hall, insiders confirmed today.
However Johnson faces a barrage of questions over the ‘planted’ bridge, which has been spearheaded by the actress Joanna Lumley but dubbed a folly by opponents, at a public mayor’s question time session on Wednesday.
Assembly members Caroline Pidgeon, Darren Johnson, and Stephen Knight, have formally tabled questions on the proposals, which will require a combined £60million of public funding from the Greater London Authority and HM Treasury.
Pidgeon, who is Liberal Democrat group leader on the assembly, tabled a simple question asking for an update on the bridge, but the move gives her the right to ask supplementary questions. Last week she pledged to demand answers from the mayor on the appointment of Heatherwick Studio to the job, after an AJ investigation.
‘Just because the Garden Bridge is the brainchild of a celebrity, there can be no justification for cutting corners in the process of selecting architects,’ she said.
‘Despite being a hugely significant project, backed up already by £60 million of taxpayer’s funding, it appears that the selection process may have been flawed.’
Darren Johnson (Green Party) is demanding to know further details of the benefit-cost-ratio calculations related to the bridge, and how they compare with proposals for a bridge for pedestrians and cyclists linking Rotherhithe in south east London with Canary Wharf north of the River Thames.
Following tentative proposals to control group access to the bridge and close the structure to the public for special events, Stephen Knight (Liberal Democrat) is seeking a commitment that Londoners will have access to the bridge ‘in perpetuity’ in return for part funding it.
He also wants to know whether Transport for London will ‘act as guarantor’ for the bridge’s projected £3.5million annual maintenance costs.
Last week it emerged that St Paul’s Cathedral was not consulted on the Garden Bridge proposals, either by Lambeth Council or the City of Westminster.
In a letter pointing out the omission, cathedral surveyor to the fabric Oliver Caroe said that as well as presenting ‘significant harms’ to protected views of Sir Chirstopher Wren’s masterpiece there were particular concerns over the financial sustainability of the bridge.
He said: ‘The detrimental effect on protected views would be greatly increased in the event of the planting failing and/or if the planting were unmaintained and allowed to overgrow. Both prospects appear to be equally real.’
Caroe’s letter can be read in full in the ‘Related Files’ section to the right of this story.
Garden Bridge questions
Caroline Pidgeon: ‘Following the approval of planning permission by Lambeth and Westminster councils, please provide an update on the Garden Bridge proposal.’
Darren Johnson: ‘What is the expected benefit-to-cost ratio for Transport for London’s investment in the Garden Bridge? How would this compare to the benefit-to-cost ratio for investment in the proposed Brunel Bridge for walking and cycling between Rotherhithe and Canary Wharf?’
Stephen Knight: ‘Further to the planning conditions placed on Westminster City Council’s approval of the Garden Bridge – designed to ensure that the Garden Bridge Trust will meet the future maintenance costs of the bridge – will you ensure that Londoners have access to the Garden Bridge in perpetuity in return for part-funding the scheme?’
Stephen Knight: ‘Further to the planning conditions placed on Westminster City Council’s approval of the Garden Bridge, can you confirm if Transport for London will act as a guarantor for the £3.5million annual maintenance costs of the Garden Bridge?’
Previous story (AJ 12.12.14)
Politicians to probe Heatherwick’s Garden Bridge appointment
Questions raised about ‘sketchy’ process that led to design studio landing Thames crossing commission – with £60 million of public funding
Politicians are to investigate the ‘sketchy’ process by which government body Transport for London (TfL) appointed Thomas Heatherwick to design the Garden Bridge.
The £175 million project – which now has planning permission from both Westminster and Lambeth councils – was originally billed as being 100 per cent private-sector funded, but now has £60 million of public funding from the mayor of London and the Treasury.
It has now emerged that TfL appointed Heatherwick Studio to produce concept designs for the bridge in February 2013, shortly after it had asked Heatherwick and two other architects – transport specialists Wilkinson Eyre and Marks Barfield – to submit tenders as part of a non-OJEU invitation-to-tender document seen by the AJ.
‘Just because the Garden Bridge is the brainchild of a celebrity, there can be no justification for cutting corners in the process of selecting architects,’ Caroline Pidgeon, London Assembly LibDem Group Leader
Two months later TfL held a second tender – this time under OJEU – for technical design services. This was won by Arup, now lead consultant on the bridge.
But critics questioned why Heatherwick didn’t face a full OJEU process himself and pointed to the fact that both Heatherwick and Arup had previously been asked to work on the bridge by the scheme’s originator, actor and campaigner Joanna Lumley. They claim this casts doubt on whether fair and open competitions took place, and whether taxpayers have received value for money.
Caroline Pidgeon, leader of the Liberal Democrat group in the London Assembly, said TfL’s tender appeared ‘flawed’, and vowed to question mayor Boris Johnson on the matter.
‘Just because the Garden Bridge is the brainchild of a celebrity, there can be no justification for cutting corners in the process of selecting architects,’ Pidgeon said.
‘Despite being a hugely significant project, backed up already by £60 million of taxpayer’s funding, it appears that the selection process may have been flawed.
‘A proper architectural competition – held fully in public – would have helped secure a far better deal for Londoners.’
Labour assembly member and chair of the audit committee John Biggs said his committee would also raise questions in response to the revelations.
He said: ‘We have now had a number of schemes in London, such as the cycle-hire scheme and the cable car, which are public/private hybrids … we shouldn’t have a lesser standard of scrutiny on these schemes.’
Peter Smith, a procurement expert and editor of the Spend Matters blog, called TfL’s invitation-to-tender document ‘sketchy’, and said it failed to ask specific questions of the three firms that would properly assess their suitability. He added that both Heatherwick and Arup appeared to have a clear advantage ahead of their bids.
A TfL spokesman said: ‘The value of this [concept designer] contract was under the OJEU threshold and therefore obtaining proposals from three nominated practices was an acceptable way forward.’
Heatherwick Studio, Marks Barfield and Wilkinson Eyre all declined to comment.
In a separate development, Wandsworth Council has launched an international design competition for a new bridge across the Thames at Nine Elms in central London – just two miles from Heatherwick’s planned bridge.